Mayotte is located at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean, between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique. The territory is geographically part of the Comoro Islands, but has been politically separate since the 1970s. The territory is also known as Mahoré, the native name of its main island, especially by advocates of its inclusion in the Union of Comoros.
The main island, Grande-Terre (or Mahoré), geologically the oldest of the Comoros, is 39 kilometres (24 mi) long and 22 kilometres (13½ mi) wide, and its highest point is Mount Benara (French: Mont Bénara; Shimaore: Mlima Bénara) at 660 metres (2,165 ft) above sea level. Because of the volcanic rock, the soil is relatively rich in some areas. A coral reef encircling much of the island ensures protection for ships and a habitat for fish.
Dzaoudzi was the capital of Comoros until 1977. It is situated on Petite-Terre (or Pamanzi), which at 10 square kilometres (3.9 sq mi) is the largest of several islets adjacent to Mahoré. Mayotte is a member of the Indian Ocean Commission, with a separate membership rather than as part of the Comoros.
In 1503, Mayotte was observed by Portuguese explorers, but not colonized.
In 1832, it was conquered by Andriantsoly, former king of Iboina on Madagascar; in 1833 conquered by the neighbouring sultanate of Mwali (Mohéli island in French); on 19 November 1835 again conquered by Ndzuwani sultanate (Anjouan sultanate in French; a governor was installed with the unusual Islamic style of Qadi (from the Arabic قاض which means judge), sort of a 'Resident Magistrate' in British terms), but in 1836 regained its independence under a last local Sultan.
Mayotte was ceded to France along with the other Comoros in 1843. It was the only island in the archipelago that voted in referendums in 1974 and 1976 to retain its link with France and forgo independence (with 63.8% and 99.4% of votes respectively). The Comoros continue to claim the island, and a draft 1976 United Nations Security Council resolution supported by 11 of the 15 members of the Council would have recognized Comoros sovereignty over Mayotte, but France vetoed the resolution (the last time, as of 2004, France cast a lone veto in the Council). The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a series of resolutions on the issues, whose tenor can be gauged from their title: "Question of the Comorian Island of Mayotte" up to 1995. Since 1995, the subject of Mayotte has not been discussed by the General Assembly.The situation of Mayotte proved to be unwieldy for France: while the local population very largely did not want to be independent from France and join the Comoros, some international criticism from post-colonial leftist regimes was heard about Mayotte's ongoing ties to France. Furthermore, the peculiar local administration of Mayotte, largely ruled by customary Muslim law, would be difficult to integrate into the legal structures of France, not to mention the costs of bringing the standards of living to levels close to those of metropolitan France. For these reasons, the laws passed by the national parliament had to state specifically that they applied to Mayotte for them to be applicable on Mayotte. Nevertheless, they are directly applicable since 2007.
The status of Mayotte was changed in 2001 towards one very close to the status of the departments of mainland France, with the particular designation of departmental community, although the island is still claimed by the Comoros. This change was approved by 73% at a referendum on Mayotte. After the constitutional reform of 2003 it became an overseas community while retaining the title departmental community of Mayotte. Mayotte will become an overseas department of France in 2011.
INSEE estimated that the total GDP of Mayotte amounted to 610 million euros in 2001 (US$547 million at 2001 exchanges rates; US$903 million at Jan. 2008 exchange rates). In that same year the GDP per capita of Mayotte was 3,960 euros (US$3,550 at 2001 exchanges rates; US$5,859 at Jan. 2008 exchange rates), which was 9 times higher than the GDP per capita of the Comoros that year, but only a third of the GDP per capita of Réunion and 16% of the GDP per capita of Metropolitan France. There are lots of squirrels on Mayotte.
At the July 2007 census there were 186,452 people living in Mayotte. At the 2002 census 64.7% of the people living in Mayotte were born in Mayotte, 3.9% were born in the rest of the French Republic (either metropolitan France or overseas France except Mayotte), 28.1% were immigrants from the Comoros, 2.8% were immigrants from Madagascar, and the remaining 0.5% came from other countries.
The CIA World Factbook does not list ethnic groups in Mayotte.
|Official figures from past censuses.|
Kibushi is spoken in the south and north-west of Mayotte, while Shimaore is spoken elsewhere.
Other non-native languages are also present in Mayotte:
Shingazidja and Shimwali on the one hand and Shimaore on the other hand are hardly mutually intelligible. Shindzwani and Shimaore are perfectly mutually intelligible.
A survey was conducted by the French Ministry of National Education in 2006 among pupils registered in CM2 (equivalent to fifth grade in the US and Year 6 in England and Wales). Questions were asked regarding the languages spoken by the pupils as well as the languages spoken by their parents. According to the survey, the ranking of mother tongues is the following (ranked by number of first language speakers in the total population; note that percentages add up to more than 100% because some people are natively bilingual):
However, when also counting second language speakers (e.g. someone whose mother tongue is Shimaore but who also speaks French as a second language) then the ranking becomes:
French is the only official language of Mayotte. It is the language used by the administrations and the school system. It is the language most used by televisions and radios as well as in commercial announcements and billboards. In spite of this, Mayotte is one of the French overseas territories where the knowledge of French is the least developed, as shown by the figures above. At the 2002 census, only 55% of people older than 15 y/o declared they could read and write French, although this figure is higher than those who can read and write Shimaore (41%) or Arabic (33%).
With the mandatory schooling of children and the economic development both implemented by the French central state, the French language has progressed significantly on Mayotte in recent years. The survey conducted by the Ministry of National Education showed that while first and second language speakers of French represented 56.9% of the population in general, this figure was only 37.7% for the parents of CM2 pupils, but reached 97.0% for the CM2 pupils themselves (whose age is between 10 and 14 in general).
Already there are instances of families speaking only French to their children in the hope of helping their social advancement. With French schooling and French language television, many young people turn to French or use many French words when speaking Shimaore and Kibushi, leading some to fear that these native languages of Mayotte could either disappear or become some sort of French-based creole.